Avarice and the human condition

10 Dec

who wants change
It’s a seductive message, but reactionary. Take greed, one of the seven deadlies and universally castigated, with greater or lesser hypocrisy and force, since time began. The ambivalence of our reluctant acceptance – admiring disapproval? – of greed reflects pragmatic and uneasy accommodations, forged and sealed in violences past and present, to our dual nature as social but individuated beings.

Human greed is a fact of life: has been since post surplus (hence class) society weakened the bonds of interdependence to introduce new tensions between social and individuated self. So why say the cartoon is reactionary? Because unless contextualised it’s taken as Confucianesque counsel to stop  trying to change the world and start  mending our wicked ways.

And what’s wrong with that? I’m the first to agree that to understand the human condition we need only look with sufficient rigour – not that we’re much given to that – into our own deeds and motivations. All necessary information can be found there. As Terence wrote twenty-two centuries ago, nothing human is alien to me. Indeed* – though I’m just as convinced by Leon Trotsky’s narrower observation that not every frustrated petit-bourgeois can be an Adolf Hitler but there is something of Adolf Hitler in every frustrated petit-bourgeois.

My, how I ramble on! All I mean to say is that recognising greed – or to use a less loaded term, opportunism borne of existential precarity – in our make up is a crap excuse for tolerating a socio-economic system which, more than any other, elevates avarice at every turn: encouraging, rewarding and indeed making it – through a race to the bottom  with the brakes off – a matter of practical necessity.

So yes, we all can and should do more to better ourselves – see how even this phrase has been hijacked – but not for a minute should we forget that this world is run by and for the criminally insane in ways that subordinate every other consideration to the dictates of profit. Ergo, this world has to be changed.

* One indispensibly cathartic way of denying the demon within us all is to strip those whose deeds unleash it of their  humanity. The tabloids do excellent service here as old favourites are pulled from a limited but fit-for-purpose lexicon: beastmonster  and the like.

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